Sun. Sep 25th, 2022


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The Supreme Court Ad Wars Begin

5 min read

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Nick Corasaniti. Lisa is off today, so I’m taking over and bringing my normal Tuesday coverage of all things media and messaging today instead.

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The parties’ advertising messages had been clear for much of the 2020 campaign.

Democrats were rehashing their successful messaging from the 2018 midterm elections around health insurance and coverage for pre-existing conditions, and combining it with a torrent of attacks on the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus. Republicans were responding to the racial justice protests with a campaign of “law and order.”

But, like everything in 2020, those lines of messaging have now been upended. The ad wars are shifting to the vacancy on the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and to President Trump’s selection of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace her.

Since Justice Ginsburg’s death 10 days ago, more than $1.8 million has been spent on television advertisements about the Supreme Court, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm. And though the battle over Judge Barrett will largely be fought in the Senate, candidates up and down the ballot are seizing on the polarizing topic.

Both the Biden and Trump presidential campaigns have capitalized on the vacancy in their fund-raising appeals, sending numerous emails and texts about the rush to fill the seat, with links to donation pages.

The Biden campaign also began running a television ad three days ago that largely focuses on a mother’s growing concerns about the chronic conditions that may result from the coronavirus — and connects the Supreme Court battle to the health care issue.

“Trump is rushing through a Supreme Court nominee to do just that: strip away care for millions of Americans and end pre-existing condition protections,” she says in the ad.

The attack is a reference to the case before the Supreme Court, supported by the Trump administration, that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Should Judge Barrett be confirmed, Democrats have argued, the court will probably rule to strike down the A.C.A., and with it the protections for pre-existing conditions enshrined in the law.

It’s a clear line of attack that Democrats plan to wield in the coming court battle. A Democratic political nonprofit in North Carolina, for example, pledged to spend $2 million attacking Senator Thom Tillis, the freshman Republican, for his support of confirming a justice before the election.

“Thom Tillis is rushing an appointment onto the Supreme Court who will vote to overturn our health care,” the ad says.

Sound familiar?

Amy McGrath, the Democratic challenger to Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has also picked up the issue. But in her ad, which she spent $500,000 over the past four days to air in Kentucky, all politics is local, including the Supreme Court.

“While Washington talks about Mitch McConnell jamming through a Supreme Court nomination, he wouldn’t jam through more help for laid-off Kentucky workers,” the ad says.

Of course, not all of the ads are from Democrats.

Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican from Georgia facing a tight race in November, has been running an ad for the past two days boasting that she was the first senator to call for Justice Ginsburg’s seat to be filled. Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has been running an ad over the weekend boasting of his record of getting conservative judges confirmed in the Senate.

The Trump campaign has run digital ads about the Supreme Court vacancy, but not TV ads.

The Senate will have the final say on Judge Barrett, but the issue has been electric enough to reach further down the ballot. In the Republican-leaning 13th Congressional District in Illinois, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a Democrat challenging Representative Rodney Davis, has an ad with the familiar message of “health care at risk” in the Supreme Court. A narrator says, “Rodney Davis won’t help us — he votes with Trump 91 percent of the time.”

Mr. Davis will not have the opportunity to vote on the president’s nominee, since he’s in the House of Representatives, but apparently the mere issue of the Supreme Court battle is enough for Ms. Londrigan to make the tenuous connection.

With Mr. Trump having nominated Judge Barrett only on Saturday, these ads are likely just the opening shots of a messaging campaign that could stretch to Election Day, and perhaps beyond.

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Ad of the week: Rapid response on Trump’s taxes

Not long after The New York Times published an investigation into President Trump’s long-sought tax returns, Joe Biden’s campaign turned one of its most revealing findings — that Mr. Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency — into a 30-second video comparing that tax bill to those paid by American workers.

The message: One of Mr. Trump’s enduring strengths has been his appeal to white working-class voters, many of whom view him as a billionaire who made personal sacrifices to run for, and serve as, president. The video seeks to undercut that, comparing Mr. Trump’s tax bill to those typical of elementary school teachers ($7,239), firefighters ($5,283), nurses ($10,216) and construction managers ($16,447).

In recent weeks, Mr. Biden has tried to frame the presidential race as “Scranton versus Park Avenue,” and the findings of the Times investigation could help him further that effort by casting Mr. Trump as not just a rich candidate who is detached from the experiences of average Americans, but someone who deployed complex tax-avoidance schemes to avoid paying his fair share.

The takeaway: The Biden campaign hopes to cut into Mr. Trump’s support among white working-class workers, and hopes the specificity of the $750 tax figure helps it break through.

This particular video, which features only words flashing on the screen and no narration, was designed for social media, but its message could find its way into the Biden campaign’s large paid-media budget.

— Shane Goldmacher

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